The 2003 American Music Awards bite the head off a bat named Legitimacy
Steve Harvey’s eyes were shadowy under the brim of his fedora. They briefly flashed with that Apollo wit, only to retreat into the thousand yard sockets of their owner, as if they were afraid of the scene before them. And could you blame them? They were the eyes of a man sent onto the stage of the 30th Annual American Music Awards, a cavern alive with platinum grill’d serpents and basilisks in Stetsons. And the beasts hissed and snapped at the heart of rock and roll, still beating and bleeding on the floor between them. You go first, Indy…
Here is the boilerplate on the AMAs:
“Winners of the American Music Awards are selected by the public. A national sampling of approximately 20,000 taking into account geographic location, age, sex and ethnic origin, have been sent ballots by the National Family Opinion, Inc. firm under the supervision of Broadcast Research and Consulting, Inc. Names of the nominees on the ballot were compiled from data supplied by the music industry trade publication, Radio & Records, and the Soundscan, Inc., management information system.”
I.e., ‘the public’ currently shoplifting hair clips at Hot Topic, ‘the public’ dreaming drunkenly of the 6.0L Ford PowerStroke® Diesel, and ‘the public’ who know why Nelly’s pal appeared onstage at this year’s AMAs in a Hannibal Lechter-inspired gold face mask (taking the platinum grill to extremes?). Pop/R&B, Country, and Hip-Hop dominated Dick Clark’s Popularity Awards in 2003, so much so that Nickelback’s performance of “How You Remind Me” came as close as a Coors Light ad to actually rocking. It’s no one’s fault, really. Soundscan numbers don’t lie. But the representatives of each camp that deigned to appear could have at least scanned a copy of “Playback” on the plane ride to L.A., the better to know their fellow presenters, performers, and row-mates. The blank, staring reaction shots of Busta Rhymes and Nelly during Alabama’s acceptance of an award of merit were priceless. The camera didn’t find Reba during Missy Elliot’s explosive performance of “Work It”; no doubt McEntire was getting a quick tuck from her plastic surgeon in the Shrine Auditorium lobby. Too bad. She missed the evening’s only truly genuine performance, featuring spine-tingling raps, pintsized superhero breakdancers, a Prince impersonator, and a worthy tribute to Jam Master Jay.
This year, The AMAs celebrated thirty years of backslapping with lightning-quick montages of presenters and winners-past. Shocker: talent shriveled as the prepared videos advanced to the present. Much more than a harrowing display of unfortunate hair-dos, the displays made me long for Fleetwood Mac, Rick James – even Huey Lewis & The News. At least these were pop stars with name recognition and a catalog beyond two or three singles with the suffix “featuring Ja Rule.” Ashanti, one of the night’s biggest winners, is a 22-year old beauty in the stable of uber-producer Irv Gotti. Her track “Always On Time” – which featured Ja Rule – was a number one single in 2002, as were collaborations with Fat Joe and even the Notorious B.I.G. (Much love out to God, my drrty, for letting Biggie lay down tracks at His home studio.)
Speaking of God, what would He think of the “Contemporary Inspirational” category? Last I checked, ‘Contemporary Christian’ was the industry euphemism for those fresh-faced vocal groups asking the musical question “Have you heard the good news?” Not anymore. Even God-rock has to answer to the almighty dollar, and ‘Inspirational’ is a word-term so easily massaged. To wit, the category pitted those soldiers of Christ in P.O.D. (they’ll know we are Christians by our dreadlocks) against the comparatively wimpy Jars of Clay, and a quartet named Avalon that featured a brunette who’d be a stone fox if she lost the sensible skirt and enormous, scary crucifix around her neck. Anyway, it was the upset of the night! Avalon beat out P.O.frigging’D.! Holy Sh – I mean oh my! The Avalon-ers were gracious enough though, thanking God twice and those who didn’t know who they were once. It was rumored that Christina Aguilera performed wearing clothing, out of respect to the inspired Christians in the house.
A quick hello from Sharon Osbourne, co-host with her brood of The 2003 AMAs: “F___ all you f____ing f______! You sons of b_____es are all f_______ gorgeous! My daughter looks like she ate Cyndi Lauper AND Pat Benatar! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Watch my f______ chat show! I’ll eat your brains, my pretties!!!!!”
Ahem. The awards continued, the aforementioned Nickelback being the only tenable presence of rock and roll, if you’re like me and refuse to acknowledge the tepid pisswater of Matchbox Twenty or Kelly Osbourne’s it’s-my-party performance of the aptly-titled “Shut Up.” Evidently neither Soundscan nor those 20,000 voters bought into the rock revolution that seemed to break through in 2002. Ah, it’s not surprising. “Hate To Say I Told You So” didn’t feature Ja Rule.
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem. That’s the name of Kenny Chesney’s album, a best-seller in 2002. More like no talent, no problem. “Young,” the hit single Chesny lip-sync’d in front of approximately 45 guys playing guitars, was watered-down Mellencamp. You know Kenny, outside the Club Cherry Bomb, holdin’ hands meant something. So did actually singing. At least the yahoos in B2K lip-sync’d while furiously busting Bobby Brown moves better than Bobby had busted earlier in the show, during his unfortunate duet with – wait for it – Ja Rule. Chesney’s huge, meaningless band was actually a trend for the Nashville set. Did you know that it takes at least eight dudes to replicate Mutt Lange’s studio genius? During her (live) performance of “Up,” Shania Twain even had a guy sawing away on the old keyboard/guitar neck combo. My pal J Franky informed me the instrument’s proper name is the Synth-Ax. Insert “synth-ax error” bit here. Another 14 or so Music City pickers accompanied Ford Truck Man (“that’s what I DRIVE!”) and long-distance pitchman Toby Keith on an AMA show-closer I’d never heard. There’s a chance Wille Nelson hadn’t, either. And that’s bad, because he was onstage! No doubt he was distracted by Mike Piazza behind the drums. The earnest chorus went something like “Whiskey for my horses, and beer for my men.” What does Alf get, Toby? Melmac’s Mark?
In the end, with cooking fires alight on all sides, glinting in their ruby eyes, the beasts tore the heart of rock and roll to pieces and made bowstrings from its sinews. Everyone who was no one walked away with an acrylic skewering triangle, and by all accounts it was Nelly’s afterparty that was to be the joint. I wonder if the fellas in Alabama rolled up to the Four Seasons in an Escalade sittin’ on 24s.
Click here, for Johnny’s coverage of last year’s 2002 American Music Awards.